English (the language, that is)

Words, Words, Words Are Important (a throwback post, but still appropriate)

Anyone who had the pleasure of spending 6th grade English class in the presence of Sister Lois would instantly recognize the name of this post as being one of her famous quotes; I’m not exactly sure why she would admonish us with this little ditty, but she said it, a LOT.  She was a rather strict teacher, and I remember the dread of the whole “diagramming sentences” procedure, but, in truth, her catchphrase could probably be my mantra.

As you may or may not know, I have already admitted to the fact that I am a snob when it comes to the English language.  I am very defensive about it, and saddened by the state of its decline.  This is not a new thing for me; even growing up I was confused and alarmed at the number of word shortcuts, general laziness, and “wrong-ness” that seemed to abound in the world.

I remember being in the car once as a kid and seeing a sign for a laundromat, the name of which was something like, “E-Z Wash.”  I remarked to my father that it was weird for something to be labeled as E through Z rather than A through Z.  After several minutes of patient explaining, my father finally got it into my thick head that “E-Z” was “short” for the word “Easy.”

“But, there’s no ‘z’ in the word ‘easy’.”
“Well, you’re supposed to sound out the letters… the letters ‘e’ and ‘z’ put together sound like ‘easy‘.”
“But that’s not how you spell ‘easy.’”
“Well, maybe they were trying to be clever.”
“That’s not clever.  It’s spelled wrong. And why is there a hyphen in it?”
“I don’t know, maybe they didn’t have enough money to spell out the entire word.”

Ditto similar conversations for signs that read “tonite only” or displayed abbreviations like “Fri” without using punctuation.  Usually the conversation would end with the “they didn’t have enough money” or the “maybe the person was in a rush when they wrote it” excuse.  My poor father.  I’m surprised he didn’t throw me out of the car.

Of course, not knowing that “EZ” was a common way to imply “easy” was due to my age and inexperience.  But my indignation about the whole thing does say a little something about my attitude towards adults, and the adult world.  Back then, I believed that adults were generally correct about 99% of the time.  They knew the correct spellings of words, they had many more years of schooling under their belts.  So to me, signs with “incorrect” spellings were a bit strange, because they were part of the (imagined) unerring adult world in which I had come to believe.

Just the other day I saw a lawn sign advertising home repairs which read something along the lines of “No job is to small.”  Well, apparently learning to spell isn’t one of the services they offer.  I almost wanted to call the number on the sign and tell them what a shame it was to spend the money on advertising their services to the public, and they couldn’t even get a simple word like “too” correct.  I mean, come on.  People should know the damn differences between to/too/two.  It’s not like adding the extra letter is going to cost a lot of money or time.  It’s ONE LETTER.

I won’t even give them the benefit of the doubt that it was a simple mistake, because this is something they are showing to the world, and they should have proofread.  It’s not private notes in a diary, it’s there for the public to see, and judge.  In my eyes, this wasn’t about being too lazy, it was about someone not knowing the difference between three very simple words of the English language.

I know I shouldn’t care whether a roof fixer/handyman guy knows the difference between the words, but what if it’s a reflection on other things?
If he doesn’t care about appearing professional, will he, in fact, be professional?  Does he even know how to read?  If he forgot to add a letter to his public sign, what if he forgets to put a decimal point in his estimate somewhere?  Yes, yes, I know this is dramatic, but it all could have been avoided if he had just asked for some professional advice before making his sign.  It’s not a requirement for my handyman to write like Shakespeare, but I do expect him to care about his public and professional image.  His omission of one letter essentially lost him any opportunity for procuring my business.  Silly?  Perhaps.  But I know I’m not the only one out there who notices these things.

So you see, Sister Lois (who would be mortified to see what the world has come to) was right.  Words, words, words ARE important.  It’s two bad that people are to lazy too get it thru there they’re their thick skulls.